1 - Be sure to approve budgets that spend most of the funds in programs.
Programs are the most important part of a nonprofit and should be the main focus on any budget. If most of the expenses are allocated to administration or fundraising, it may mean that the organization will be launching a new program, or it could mean that the nonprofit lost its focus and needs to re-think its budgets as it relates to programs. If the focus in not on programs, there is something wrong.
2 - Always look at the cash on the Balance Sheet/ Statement of Financial Position.
Many boards only look at revenues and expenses, but not at the cash account balances. Cash is indeed king and should be evaluated carefully as revenues and expenses may or may not show cash transactions, depending on the accounting basis used. If you see $10,000 in income and $1,000 in expenses, but only $100 in the cash balance, you should start questioning how the nonprofit is paying its bills.
3 - Pay attention at variances between actual and budget numbers cumulatively.
As budget vs. actual reports are presented, you should look for small variances in revenues and expenses that may end up being a large difference after a few months. If revenues, for instance, are below budget by 5% every month, at the end of three months, the cumulative difference could be 15%, and the nonprofit may not have the resources to pay for its expenses as time passes. So, be sure to review cumulative variances as well as monthly ones.
4 - Review tax returns before they are filed.
The IRS promotes the idea of boards of directors to review the tax returns before they are filed. The 990, nonprofit tax form, specifically asks if the board reviewed the returns. The point here is to make the board accountable and not just a detached government body. As board members review the tax returns, they may get ideas about internal controls and verify the information presented --whether they like it or not, they are responsible for the 990 information filed.
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